Different Approaches to Planning a Preschool Curriculum Approaches: Overview of 3 Approaches

Thematic Planning

Most preschool teachers are very familiar with weekly or monthly thematic planning. The teacher will choose a broad topic or theme, such as "Community Helpers", and all lessons and activities in the classroom for that week or month will focus on the broad theme. Since this is a very popular way to plan a preschool curriculum, there are numerous resources available for thematic planning. Several prepared curriculums, such as The Creative Curriculum, are based on a thematic plan, making this a very easy choice for many teachers.

If you choose to use thematic planning in your classroom, there are a few tips you should keep in mind. Try and choose your themes or topics a few months in advance. This way, parents will know what is coming up and may be able to prepare their children for what is to come. Also, if you need any special materials, parents and school administrators may be able to help you find these resources if given enough advance notice. Planning ahead also makes planning any special events such as guest speakers and field trips that focus on the theme a bit easier. Try and choose themes that are appropriate for your class. If the majority of your three-year-old class is terrified of dinosaurs, you may want to skip the dinosaur themed week that the rest of the school is participating in. Save it for another week later in the school year, and find a way to introduce it that will make it less frightening for your class.

There are a few down sides to thematic planning. If you choose to use a prepared curriculum, you may lose the chance to create your own lesson plans. Also, prepared themed curriculums don't usually allow a teacher to extend a lesson if children are very interested in the subject.

Curriculum Webs

Curriculum webbing is similar to thematic planning in that it begins with a central, or broad, topic. However, this is where the similarities end. A curriculum web provides the teacher with complete freedom to choose the type of subtopics and lessons they would like to introduce to their class. More adventurous teachers may choose to have the children help her create the curriculum web, ensuring that the children will be interested in the topic.

When beginning a curriculum web, start with a very broad central topic, such as Animals. Write the word Animals in the center of a blank piece of paper and draw several lines, or branches, from this central topic. These branches can be labeled Farm Animals, Zoo Animals, Desert Animals, or any other subtopic of animals that you can think of. From these subtopics, more branches and subcategories can be labeled. In this way, a curriculum web can be an ever-evolving curriculum tool. You can easily fill an entire school year learning about animals when you plan with a curriculum web. Also, you have the ability to extend a lesson if children are interested in the topic.

While curriculum webbing certainly gives you the freedom to be creative and take the children's interests into consideration, it is not for everyone. It is difficult to plan ahead with a curriculum web, because you are never really sure when the children's interests in the subject will wane or morph into something very different. For teachers who thrive on a structured lesson plan, curriculum webbing might be difficult.

Planning by Ability or Interests

Often, preschool classrooms contain a mix of children's ages or abilities. You may have very young three year olds who are just learning how to be apart from their families in the same class as more mature five year olds who are doing simple math and learning to read. How do you plan for a multi-age or multi-ability classroom?

Individualized planning might be your best bet in these situations. While it is more time consuming, it will give you the ability to plan lessons specifically tailored for each child in the classroom. For example, if Ryan is ready to learn a few simple addition facts, you can plan a colored bead counting activity for him to participate in during small group time. If there are other children on the same level as Ryan, include the counting activity in their lesson plans, also. If Lauren is tactile-sensitive, plan some one-on-one time for you to interact with her at the sensory table. Try to build-in activities that focus on the abilities and interests of each child in the classroom when you choose to create individualized curriculums.

The Freedom to Choose

As a preschool teacher, you will often have the freedom to choose how you would like to structure your day. You may also have the ability to choose the type of curriculum you would like to use in your classroom. While planning lessons according to a monthly or weekly theme is one of the most popular ways to structure your preschool curriculum, it is not the only way. You may choose to use a more free form curriculum web, or plan based on the children’s abilities or interests.

Whichever approach you choose to take, know that it does not have to be the only way. For example, if you begin using a curriculum web but find that it does not work well in your classroom, do not be afraid to try a different approach. Or, you can mix a few components of each approach that work well for you and create a new curriculum plan. One of the perks of teaching preschool is the ability to be creative with lessons. Experiment and find out what works for you and your class.


  • Decker, Celia Anita and Decker, John R., Planning and Administering Early Childhood Programs. Merrill (1992).
  • Curtis, Deb and Carter, Margie, The Art of Awareness: How Observation Can Transform Your Teaching. Redleaf Press (2000).
  • The Creative Curriculum http://www.creativecurriculum.net/

This post is part of the series: Preschool Curriculum

These series of articles introduces preschool teachers to several different approaches to curriculum. Included are an overview of several different types of curriculum as well as a focused article on creating a curriculum web for preschoolers.
  1. It's All About Choices: Approaches to the Preschool Curriculum
  2. Engaging Your Early Education Students With a Webbing Curriculum